Monday, May 21, 2018
News Roundup

St. Pete Beach leaders to discuss next year's budget

ST. PETE BEACH — On Wednesday, the commission will begin poring over a proposed $26 million budget for the fiscal year that begins in October.

City Manager Mike Bonfield characterized the budget as "conservative expenditures" to maintain existing city services with few new initiatives or programs.

Although the city expects to save $1.7 million as a result of transferring law enforcement duties to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, "We tried not to use the savings . . . in the operating budget," Bonfield said. "I felt very strongly that the commission's main interest is in using the savings for capital projects that have been put off for a long time."

(There's also an expected savings of $719,400, a decrease in pension contributions as a result of the transfer.)

Actual spending for operations will drop by about 6 percent, according to finance director Elaine Edmunds.

Bonfield's proposed spending plan calls for a 2.5 percent salary increase for most employees, costing about $82,000.

Increased or new spending also includes about $150,000 in higher costs for health, disability and dental insurance and workers' compensation; $33,628 for increased parks and tree maintenance; and $4,000 for a barge for Fourth of July fireworks.

Bonfield, who expects the city's long-running lawsuits over the city's development rules to sharply diminish next year, is budgeting $30,000 less for legal fees. Less will also be spent for information technology, where services are being increasingly outsourced.

The city manager is also recommending increased user fees for sewer service (4 percent) and reclaimed water (8 percent).

Capital project spending includes $1.187 million to improve the city-owned portion of Blind Pass Road; $1.15 million to rehabilitate a sewer system lift station, $445,000 for community center debt service, $350,000 for engineering to reconstruct Pass-A-Grille Way, $243,000 for landscaping the approach to the new Pinellas Bayway bridge, and $225,000 to replace ballpark lighting at Egan Park.

Before approving that budget and official property tax rates in September, the commission will have to set the maximum possible property tax rate.

Bonfield is recommending that rate be dropped virtually a full point to 2.8569 mills, which would result in a $600,000 loss in revenue for the city. The current millage rate is 3.2819 mills.

The lower millage rate would mean a $51.28 savings for every $100,000 of assessed taxable value after all exemptions. One mill is equivalent to $1 of tax for each $1,000 of assessed, nonexempt real property.

An alternate, slightly higher, property tax rate of 3.0 mills is also being recommended by a citizen Finance and Budget Review Committee, which is responsible for vetting the city manager's proposed budget.

That recommendation sparked a heated, often loud argument between Mayor Steve McFarlin and Commissioner Jim Parent at Tuesday's commission meeting.

The tiff started Monday when McFarlin issued a strong critique of Parent's comments at the budget review committee meeting urging panel members to consider creating a special fund for unexpected or emergency projects. Parent defended his actions during Tuesday's commission meeting but also admitted that he had erred.

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